MOST people go to Hawaii to forget their jobs; Steven Gray went there to audition for a spot with A-League club Melbourne Heart. Last week he got the job.
The 30-year-old Irishman signed a one-year deal with the Heart after
impressing new coach John Aloisi with his play in the Victorian Premier League with Dandenong Thunder in 2011 and Oakleigh Cannons this season. Unfortunately by signing on with the Heart, Gray won't play again for the Cannons.
Gray, who played 13 years of professional football in England with Southampton and Ireland with Drogheda United, took a punt on coming to Australia early last year with hopes of earning an A-League position.
But he was not sure he had caught anyone's eye until a phone call out of the blue in February.
"My agent called me and asked me what I was doing the next week," Gray said. "I said I had nothing planned, then he said you are going to Hawaii to play with Melbourne Heart.
"It turns out the Heart had asked a few VPL managers if there were any centre-halves [central defenders] worth looking at and my name came up."
Gray played in Hawaii under the eye of Aloisi, then the team's youth league coach, and he impressed his future boss playing against premier opposition from Major League Soccer and South Korea alongside young teammates.
"I was very impressed with the way John handled the players and found the training very professional," Gray said. "He spoke to me at the end of the week and said he was impressed and if he had any say in the club he would try and get me in.
"Part of me was excited when John got the job but the other part was thinking maybe I wouldn't get the call but in fairness to John three or four days after he got the Heart job he called my agent and invited me to training.
"So I was very impressed with how he stuck to his word."
Gray was a rock of dependability for the Thunder last season, taking over the coaching reins for the final matches of the season after then coach Stuart Munro left for Perth Glory.
Gray said he believed he was good enough to make the A-League but knew a move was far from certain.
"In Ireland I had won everything and as you may be aware the country is going through an economic struggle at the minute so a few friends over here convinced me to come out and take a chance at the VPL," he said.
"Like anything, you need a bit of luck. Thankfully it paid off."
Gray could end up playing an important role for the Heart this season after starting centre-back Curtis Good left to join English Premier League side Newcastle United.
Gray said he knew nothing was promised but would give his all to secure a place in the Heart's starting 11.
"I have to believe in myself, I know I have a lot of experience behind me from playing in Europe," he said.
"My first aim is to get into the team and then hopefully the starting team."